Little Girl directed by Sébastien Lifshitz
Little Girl directed by Sébastien Lifshitz

UniFrance and Film at Lincoln Center announce the complete lineup for the 26th edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the annual festival that showcases contemporary French filmmaking, scheduled for March 4-14 in the FLC Virtual Cinema.

“This year’s edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema is a special one with virtual presentations of the films due to the Covid-19 crisis, but we’re making the most of these challenging times and are pleased to share French cinema beyond our beloved New York audience,” said Daniela Elstner, Managing Director of UniFrance. “All the cinephiles in the U.S. will have access to our exciting selection of bold new voices and returning filmmakers, including our opening film, Sébastien Lifshitz’s remarkable and moving Little Girl, which is the first documentary ever to open the festival. We are also thrilled to have Emmanuelle Béart as our official Guest of Honor for the 26th edition. Emmanuelle’s career as an actress and activist highlights what French cinema represents for American audiences today: a leading voice and vision on world issues and our collective consciousness.”

The 2021 Opening Night selection is Sébastien Lifshitz’s moving documentary Little Girl, which follows a young girl’s experience with gender dysphoria with remarkable sensitivity. The 18-film lineup showcases new work from returning Rendez-Vous filmmakers, including Emmanuel Mouret’s Love Affair(s), one of Cahiers du Cinema’s top 10 films of 2020; beloved oddball director Quentin Dupieux’s Mandibles, in which two bumbling friends try to turn a mutant insect into an absurd business opportunity; Farid Bentoumi’s Red Soil, about a nurse who exposes corruption at a chemical factory; Nicole Garcia’s seductive noir Lovers; Guillaume Brac’s witty road caper À l’abordage!; and François Ozon’s Summer of ’85, a dark, nostalgic queer romance with an evocative soundtrack by The Cure.

First-time feature filmmakers make up a third of this year’s program. Among the debuts are Nora Martirosyan’s Should the Wind Drop, a timely drama set in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region; Suzanne Lindon’s Spring Blossom, a charming twist on a coming-of-age tale; Charlène Favier’s Slalom, about an aspiring young Olympian navigating consent in the high-stakes world of sports; Fanny Liatard & Jérémy Trouilh’s Gagarin, about a teenager fighting the demolition of his housing project; and actor-turned-director Samir Guesmi’s Ibrahim. Ludovic Bergery’s Margaux Hartmann, also a debut, features a memorable performance by the great Emmanuelle Béart (Ozon’s 8 Women, Jacques Rivette’s The Beautiful Troublemaker), who will serve as this year’s Rendez-Vous Guest of Honor. Béart will participate in an extended opening conversation with Columbia University Professor Richard Peña about her career, recent French cinema, and this year’s Rendez-Vous lineup—additional details to be announced.

Other festival highlights include Hélier Cisterne’s Faithful, starring Vicky Krieps and Vincent Lacoste in a tale of romance and revolution based on a true story; Quentin Reynaud’s exhilarating portrait of an aging tennis star, Final Set; Fabienne Godet’s existential mystery Lifelines; and several Cannes 2020 selections, such as Emmanuel Courcol’s The Big Hit and Caroline Vignal’s My Donkey, My Lover, and I, just nominated for seven César Awards.

“We are truly delighted to celebrate 26 years of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema with our partners at UniFrance,” said Florence Almozini, FLC Senior Programmer at Large. “This year’s festival demonstrates the vigorous diversity of French cinema today with exciting new films from returning directors François Ozon, Nicole Garcia, Guillaume Brac, and Quentin Dupieux, as well as memorable debuts from Charlène Favier, Nora Martirosyan, and Suzanne Lindon. While it has been a challenging year for so many people, we hope to bring the audience some entertainment, comfort, and enlightenment with this compelling lineup of new French gems.”

The festival will also present several free talks: How Music Makes the Film, about the complex collaborative process between directors and composers, and Vive la Résistance, a conversation exploring the depiction of grassroots activism in recent French and American cinema. All 18 films will also screen with virtual Q&As. Virtual moviegoers will have the chance to give a prize to their favorite festival film with the second annual Rendez-Vous Audience Award.

26th Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Films

Opening Night
Little Girl / Petite Fille
Sébastien Lifshitz, 2020, France, 85m
French with English subtitles
Sasha has known she was a girl since she was just three years old, but her second-grade teachers refuse to accept her gender identity. In this remarkable documentary, Sébastien Lifshitz (Les invisibles) embeds with Sasha’s family for a year as they confront dismissive school administrators. But the film dwells equally on Sasha’s everyday life outside of school—we see her at home with her loving parents and siblings, who encourage her to express herself freely, and alongside her unfaltering mother Karine in appointments with child psychiatrists, who validate Sasha’s experiences. With immense sensitivity and empathy, Little Girl follows Sasha and her family as they strive to reclaim an ordinary childhood, while capturing the social stigmas that still persist around gender dysphoria. A Music Box Film release.

À l’abordage!
Guillaume Brac, 2020, France, 95m
French with English subtitles
After a chance meeting and a night spent dancing by the Seine, Félix (Eric Nantchouang) is smitten with Alma (Asma Messaoudene). But when dawn breaks, she hurries to the train to join her family on vacation in the south of France. Undeterred, Félix and his friend Chérif (Salif Cissé) decide to go camping in the same lush, mountainous region, only to end up stranded with their dorky carpool driver (Édouard Sulpice) 600 km away from home… and it still remains to be seen how Alma will respond to Félix’s surprise. This latest tale from Guillaume Brac (Tonnerre, Rendez-Vous 2014; July Tales, Rendez-Vous 2018) details its characters with a rare acuity, and entwines their matters of the heart and their political and existential yearnings with humor and wit reminiscent of Jacques Rozier’s films.

The Big Hit / Un triomphe
Emmanuel Courcol, 2020, France, 106m
French with English subtitles
When jaded retired actor Étienne (Kad Merad, Orchestra Class, Rendez-Vous 2018) begins leading theater workshops at a correctional facility, he’s inspired by what he sees: as the inmates rehearse a series of fables, their performances reveal a humor and authenticity that’s often repressed by their daily routines. Perceiving existential parallels between the inmates’ experiences and Waiting for Godot, Étienne convinces the prison staff to let the troupe stage Samuel Beckett’s classic. But as Étienne learns the ropes of directing a full-length play, he also faces friction with bureaucratic administrators. Inspired by a true story, this Cannes 2020 selection is a rousing testament to the power of expression. Its bittersweet humanism flows effortlessly from its assured ensemble.

Faithful / De nos frères blessés
Hélier Cisterne, 2020, France, 96m
French and Arabic with English subtitles
Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) and Vincent Lacoste (Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel, NYFF56) bring a firebrand vitality to this 1950s-set true story of revolutionary conviction and romantic passion. Lacoste plays real-life communist dissident Fernand Iveton, who, on a brief trip to Paris for medical tests, falls in love with headstrong Hélène (Krieps), an escapee from an oppressive regime in Poland. Entranced by each other’s devotion to their principles, they marry and move to Algiers, where Fernand came of age among Marxist radicals. As the revolution explodes, Fernand throws himself into the Algerian resistance, while Hélène, aware of the suffering she witnessed before starting a new life, must reckon with just how much her husband is willing to sacrifice.

Final Set / Cinquième set
Quentin Reynaud, 2020, France, 113m
French with English subtitles
At 37 years of age, seasoned tennis player Thomas (Alex Lutz) finds himself at a crossroads. Still driven by unfulfilled dreams of superstardom, he’s determined to clinch a career-defining championship ranking, but after 18 years in the game, he’s battling worsening arthritis in his knee. As he throws himself into qualifying matches against players two decades his junior, he juggles a mounting series of pressures off the court, including an increasingly surreal public-relations circus, the necessity of making ends meet for his wife (Ana Girardot) and son, and friction with his mother (a steely Kristin Scott Thomas), who owns a tennis club. Quentin Reynaud’s masterful interior portrait of an athlete infuses nerve-wracking mental and physical stakes into each exhilarating set. A Film Movement release.

Gagarin / Gagarine
Fanny Liatard & Jérémy Trouilh, 2020, France, 97m
French with English subtitles
In this soulful Cannes 2020 selection, a breakout Alseni Bathily stars as 16-year-old engineering whiz Yuri, who industriously sets about renovating the housing project where he lives, Cité Gagarine, to save it from demolition. With the help of his closest friends (Jamil McCraven and Lyna Khoudri) and an eccentric scrapyard owner (Denis Lavant in a memorable cameo), Yuri slowly reinvigorates his building’s splintered, diverse community, but he can only do so much in the face of an unsympathetic housing board—which compels him to draw some imaginative inspiration from his and his home’s namesake, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. With dreamlike set pieces and evocative sound design, Gagarin’s flights of the fantastic vibrantly resist the displacement of the marginalized. A Cohen Media release.

Samir Guesmi, 2020, France, 78m
French with English subtitles
Ibrahim (Abdel Bendaher) is a solitary 17-year-old trade school student who lives in a cramped banlieue housing project with his intense father, Ahmed (director Samir Guesmi), and dreams of soccer success. When his close friend Achille (Rabah Naït Oufella, Nocturama, Rendez-Vous 2017) starts flirting with petty robbery, a reluctant Ibrahim is swept up in a plan that goes awry. With money already tight after Ahmed allocates funds for an important dental procedure, Ibrahim resolves to make up the difference himself. With a simmering breakout performance from Bendaher, this Cannes 2020 selection is a thrilling slice of social realism, sensitive to the barriers of race and class as Ibrahim and Ahmed forge upwardly mobile futures.

Lifelines / Si demain
Fabienne Godet, 2020, France, 86m
French with English subtitles
Esther (Julie Moulier) is still reeling from a tumultuous breakup when a package with no return address arrives at her doorstep. Inside, Esther finds an anonymous diary, whose 20-year-old entries were written by a young woman who lost her lover in a motorcycle accident. This mysterious occurrence draws Esther out of her depression and into a tantalizing paper trail. With the encouragement of her best friend (Lucie Debay), she travels to Toulouse in search of the diary’s owner—but Esther’s adventure may lead her to run out a clock she didn’t realize was ticking. Also featuring BPM (Beats Per Minute)’s Arnaud Valois in an intriguing supporting role, Lifelines injects an enigma into a moment of crisis to ask what—and who—matters most in life.

Love Affair(s) / Les Choses qu’on dit, les choses qu’on fait
Emmanuel Mouret, 2020, France, 120m
French with English subtitles
When Daphné (Camélia Jordana) picks up her partner’s cousin Maxime (Niels Schneider, Dark Inclusion, Rendez-Vous 2016) from the train station, their idle chatter is at first innocuous. He’s hoping to work on a novel while visiting Daphné and François (Vincent Macaigne, Non-Fiction, NYFF56) in the country; she’s three months pregnant and looking forward to starting a family. But as they wander through local châteaux while waiting for François to return from a work emergency, stories of the past open up Rohmerian curlicues of passion and fidelity. In the hands of Emmanuel Mouret (Mademoiselle de Joncquières, Rendez-Vous 2019), Love Affair(s) is a lush, philosophical tale of serendipitous timing and the unpredictable flow of desire. Nominated for 13 César Awards including Best Film, Best Director, and all four acting categories.

Lovers / Amants
Nicole Garcia, 2020, France, 103m
English and French with English subtitles
Hotel-school student Lisa (Stacy Martin, Nymphomaniac) is wrapped up in a passionate romance with Simon (Pierre Niney, François Ozon’s Frantz), who makes a living dealing drugs to wealthy clients. When one of his customers overdoses on bad coke, Simon is forced to skip town, possibly never to see a heartbroken Lisa again. But three years later, their desire is sparked anew when they reunite by chance on an island in the Indian Ocean, where Lisa is traveling with her real-estate developer husband (Benoît Magimel, The Piano Teacher). In this noirish love triangle from actress and filmmaker Nicole Garcia (From the Land of the Moon, Rendez-Vous 2017), the stakes heighten with each knotty, seductive twist.

Mandibles / Mandibules
Quentin Dupieux, 2020, France/Belgium, 77m
French with English subtitles
Although rumpled loser Manu (Grégoire Ludig, of Dupieux’s Keep an Eye Out!) is initially contracted to transport a suitcase between shady businessmen, life has other plans. When he opens the trunk of his stolen car, he finds a living, breathing housefly the size of a Great Dane. Sensing an opportunity, Manu’s pal Jean-Gab (David Marsais) suggests that if they trained the jumbo insect to move like a drone and steal goods, they could make a fortune. Escalating mishaps—including a torched RV and a case of mistaken identities, with an unforgettable turn by Blue Is the Warmest Color’s Adèle Exarchopoulos—hilariously prove that domesticating a mutant bug is easier said than done. In the hands of the inexhaustibly imaginative Dupieux (Deerskin, Rendez-Vous 2020), a surprisingly tender portrait of friendship emerges along the way. A Magnolia release.

Margaux Hartmann / L’Étreinte
Ludovic Bergery, 2020, France, 100m
French with English subtitles
The great Emmanuelle Béart of La Belle Noiseuse and Manon des Sources anchors Margaux Hartmann in the fluidity of the unknown. Six months after her husband’s death, middle-aged Margaux (Béart) moves into her half-sister’s guest house in Versailles to enroll in a local Master’s program. Her fellow students, who are much younger, quickly take a liking to her and, despite her grief, Margaux gradually comes out of her shell to embrace new friends (Vincent Dedienne) and romantic interests (Tibo Vandenborre). A self-assured and sensual directorial debut from Ludovic Bergery, Margaux Hartmann probes the possibilities of seeking a new beginning on one’s own terms.

My Donkey, My Lover, and I / Antoinette dans les Cévennes
Caroline Vignal, 2020, France, 95m
French with English subtitles
Primary schoolteacher Antoinette (Laure Calamy, Sibyl, NYFF57) is elated about her upcoming vacation with her married lover, Vladimir, but life quickly intervenes: he cancels on her to take a hiking trip with his wife and young daughter, who’s one of Antoinette’s pupils. Fueled by impulse, Antoinette heads to the same mountainous region of Cévennes National Park with an itinerary inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. On her spur-of-the-moment mission, she forges quick bonds with an idealistic innkeeper (Marie Rivière, Rohmer’s The Green Ray) and Patrick, the cantankerous donkey she’s rented to help her up the mountain. In this Cannes 2020 selection, Caroline Vignal embraces the long and winding path over the final destination with much heart and humor. Nominated for seven César Awards including Best Film, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay.

Red Soil / Rouge
Farid Bentoumi, 2020, France/Belgium, 90m
French with English subtitles
César-winner Zita Hanrot (Fatima) delivers an extraordinary performance at the unflinching eye of this environmental thriller’s storm. When Hanrot’s Nour, a nurse, is put on probation after a fatal accident at her emergency room, she takes charge of the infirmary of the chemical factory where her father (Sami Bouajila, César-winner for André Téchiné’s The Witnesses) has worked for nearly 30 years. As she starts scheduling routine check-ups, Nour is struck by odd gaps in the records and a general skepticism from the workers. Her suspicions build when a reporter (Céline Sallette, House of Tolerance) raises concerns about undisclosed toxic waste dumps. With each harrowing revelation, Red Soil pulls apart a conspiracy at the damning intersection of pollution and globalist exploitation. A Cannes 2020 selection.

Should the Wind Drop / Si le vent tombe
Nora Martirosyan, 2020, France/Armenia/Belgium, 100m
English, French, Armenian, and Russian with English subtitles
The disputed landlocked region of Nagorno-Karabakh is an eight-hour drive from the closest airport, but French auditor Alain (Claire Denis’s frequent muse Grégoire Colin) could change this if he determines that the war-torn republic’s inactive Stepanakert Airport can safely reopen. As he spends a week getting to know the locals, Alain discovers an area struggling to rebuild itself two decades after a fragile ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and realizes that his regulatory decision could seal the global fate of a society on the verge of disappearance. Brought to life by a lively ensemble cast and a compassionate performance from Colin, this Cannes 2020 selection announces a sharp and forward-thinking new voice in Nora Martirosyan.

Charlène Favier, 2020, France, 90m
French with English subtitles
Lyz (Noée Abita, Ava, Rendez-Vous 2018) is a 15-year-old athlete on the brink of a breakthrough. She’s the newest recruit of a selective ski club, and her intense coach (Jérémie Renier, Double Lover) singles her out as a top contender for the Olympic gold. Lyz strives to prove she’s game for his grueling training sessions and hardens herself to its pressures, but with each win, her coach sweeps her further away from her closest confidantes not only her teammate and friend Justine (Maïra Schmitt), but also her mother (Marie Denarnaud), who has moved to Marseille for work. Anchored by a sensitive and gripping performance by Abita, Charlène Favier’s ever-surprising debut deftly dissects the power dynamics of ambition and consent. A Kino Lorber release.

Spring Blossom / Seize printemps
Suzanne Lindon, 2020, France, 73m
French with English subtitles
An official selection at Cannes, San Sebastian, and TIFF, this charming debut feature from 20-year-old Suzanne Lindon offers a bold and exploratory twist on a coming-of-age tale. Lindon plays Suzanne, a 16-year-old student daydreaming through a mundane high-school spring. While walking home, she catches sight of a handsome theater actor, Raphaël (Arnaud Valois, BPM (Beats Per Minute)), similarly lost in his own thoughts. They’re intrigued by each other, and their conversations eventually whisk them into a world of their own, which Lindon brings to life with freewheeling musical numbers and oneiric vignettes. A refreshing jaunt with a hidden wavelength, Spring Blossom coaxes Suzanne’s dreams out into the open. A KimStim release.

Summer of ’85 / Été ’85
François Ozon, 2020, France/Belgium, 100m
English and French with English subtitles
The French Riviera, 1985. Budding teenage writer Alexis (Félix Lefebvre, School’s Out, Rendez-Vous 2019) capsizes while he’s out sailing on a stormy afternoon, but he’s saved from certain death by the statuesque, mercurial David (Benjamin Voisin). They become fast friends, and Alexis starts working for David’s affectionate but scattered mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, star and director of A Castle in Italy). Alexis’s attraction to David soon blossoms into passion, but turns, by the end of the summer, into a deeper meditation on mortality and the unknown. Awash in sun-kissed pastels and period-appropriate tracks from The Cure, Summer of ’85 is a cursed romance in the key of Rimbaud and Verlaine that pulls apart the comforts of nostalgia in the heat of the present. A Music Box release. Nominated for 12 César Awards including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

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